Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Alisa Velaj writes


was she wearing a short skirt
where she stood in front of him in the woods
was she wearing a short skirt a smile
a shadow over her will her dislike!
where she walked beside him
did she walk beside him
without using violence
was she walking one step ahead or after
without screaming or raising
one single hand against him
did she wear a short skirt did she wear
a long skirt a pair of worn jean
long nails a pair of black briefs
was she called cunt whore
fluttering cunt in popular speech
was that her reputation
was she left tattered and torn on the meadow
with her genitals tattered and torn
as a legal process
was there a scaffold for her
who never cast her eyes down

Normally mythical heroes remain just the same, wearing the outstanding garb of miracle, while real heroes, whose human desires become gnawed off by their ideals and the spiritual time, often become mythical heroes. Such a figure is the French heroine Joan of Arc, (Jeanne d'Arc), the symbol of the dream for freedom in XV century France. This symbol of self-sacrifice and martyrdom dishonors human gratitude even today. What hurts even more for us, the idealists who see the world through eyes of pain and optimism, what stings the soul of such thrilling poets as Anna Mattsson who are concerned with the tragic fate of women in societies filled with social and economic problems is the fact that so many Joans of Arc are still living but hidden from our eyes.

These Joans of Arc are silent, far away from the triumphs of chaotic societies, but they are the heroines of modern times which at first glance are not as chaotic as medieval times, but where tragedy is often hidden under other views. This basically reveals that we, the modern people who talk so openly about freedom and human rights, may be living in even more dangerous times. If we talk about those dark times, when we say "war" we are referring to the real War, and when we say"peace" we are referring to real Peace, so we mean them both. We have a kind of optical illusion that separates good from evil, and today we may use the term peace to baptize an often obscene war, which is tough, ruthless and barely visible, while the evil that begins in the souls of those who cause these wars has a misleading face, appearing in front of us as a good thing, or, even worse, as "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place," to borrow an expression of Hemingway, where nothing happens. And barely visible wars conceive silent heroines, who often disappear without fuss, even without knowing at all that somewhere in X country one of them has breathed. Anna Mattsson tries to be. and manages to be, the best possible voice of these silent Joans of Arc.

She has worn a short skirt and a smile
A shadow above her not at all desired

Anna Mattsson unmasks the hypocrisy, teaching us how to read the suffering on the faces of all Joans of Arc who are living around us and we do not know that they exist. She courageously tells us that not every smile can be the standard of happiness and the light of the soul. There are some smiles improvised by violence, where the heart is bleeding internally. Smiles that spring up from shadows! And not coincidentally the poet also shows the girl walking among the trees or in a forest, and ends with the lines:

There was a scaffold for execution of her
who never took a look at the ground

Referring to Umberto Eco, forests are a metaphor for the narration of a text, not just the text of a fairy tale, but any kind of text.[1]  In the beginning of this poem we imagine the trees where the tragic heroine walks among them, and finally we know about the scaffold where she was executed. The myth of Joan of Arc springs here openly, and juxtaposes two times, the Middle Ages and the contemporary one, which make the same phenomena, misunderstanding and violence, seem so identical. The Virgin of Orleans was accused of heresy, was violated and then burned at the stake, never being able to taste the freedom brought by her to her own people, and our Joans of Arc are victims of a different violence, and the trees they walk among in short skirts and long fingernails are the "raw material" that would later be used to build their shameful scaffold. That scaffold would later be a rostrum for those who destroyed and desecrated their freedom without fully knowing it, or those who never knew in their hearts about their real drama. So the trees as a symbol of life turn out to be here symbols of death, hinting at the stake or shameful tribunes. At death’s door Joan of Arc kissed the cross. All Joans of Arc in our times are quietly crucified by shameful actions they performed not because they were whores in their soul, but were led on that route by poverty and necessity. Their material poverty and the spiritual poverty of those who violate them without humanity make these creatures always looking back to the areas where their spiritual homeland is.
In general the poems that address social dramas require a high level of skill by the poets, so that the strong link with reality won’t reduce the poetry to a simple story, where the art of poetry must be a function of what forms a factual happening. Anna Mattsson succeeds miraculously to interweave the story with poetry. The real is processed through a high register of the language of poetry, wherein the dramas of life and of poetry are both experienced with the same intensity. Poetry has a laconic language, wherein a few verses narrate beyond what can be confessed into tens of pages. The intensity of the emotions and spirit of revolt are conceived through a symbolic language that can be employed only by a poet with a high artistic potential. Only in this way does art succeed to be a powerful voice for the social drama.
[Anna Mattsson (born in 1966) is a Swedish poet, novelist and translator. Since her debut in 1988, she has published 10 books of her own and several translations. She studied Comparative Literature, Philosophy and Nordic Languages. For a number of years, she worked as a translator for the Nordic Council of Ministers, particularly between Faroese and Swedish. Between 1990 and 1993, she lived in the Faroe Islands where she studied Nordic Language at the University of Torshavn. Since 2001, she has been involved in the cultural exchange between Sweden and Cambodia. She lived in Phnom Penh between 2003 and 2006 and still does, from time to time. Among others, she has published a translation of the world-famous children’s book Pippi Longstocking in the Khmer language (Cambodian). Her latest book is the poetry collection Ljusgatan (Light Street/The Street of Light), published in 2013.]

[1] Eco, Umberto, Six walks in the fictional woods, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England, 2004, p.6.

 Image result for joan of arc painting

 Joan of Arc -- Jules Bastien-Lepage 


  1. The Hundred Years' War was a series of conflicts waged from 1337 to 1453 between England and France over the possession of the French throne. After the duc de Normandie conquered England in 1066 and became William I, the English kings continued to be vassals of France (in terms of their French lands), giving the French king the power to overrule English policies there. William's great-grandson the duc d'Anjou became Henry II in 1154, and the Angevins directly ruled over more French territory than the kings of France. However, by 1204 Philippe II had taken control over most of it, and by 1324 the English possessions had shrunk to only parts of Gascogne in the southwest; and the French sought to confiscate that duchy as well. When Louis X of France died in 1316, his brother the count of Poitiers asserted that Louis' daughter was ineligible to succeed him due to her gender and took the throne as Philippe V; but his own daughters were similarly barred, so he was followed in 1322 by his younger brother Charles IV, who also died without a son in 1328. His sister claimed the throne of behalf of her 16-year-old son Edward III of England, but the French nobles rejected her claim at least in part because she was suspected of murdering her husband Edward II; the throne passed to Charles' first cousin, the count of Valois, Philippe VI. When Philippe threatened to seize Gascogne in 1337, Edward formally assumed the royal title and invaded in 1340, immediately gaining dominance over the English Channel and thus preventing any French counter-invasion. In 1346 he led a second invasion, taking Caen and inflicting a major defeat of Philippe's forces at Crécy, before capturing Calais in 1347, which the English occupied until 1558. In 1348, the Black Death bubonic plague, which had just arrived in Paris, began to ravage Europe; half the French population was destroyed.

  2. Philippe died in 1350, followed by his son Jean II. The war resumed in 1355, and from Gascogne Edward's son "the Black prince" launched a chevauchée (scorched earth campaign) against France and then defeated Jean's army at Poitiers in 1356 despite being outnumbered 2-1. Jean was captured and sent to England, where he maintained a regal lifestyle and was permitted to travel. Edward led his third invasion of France in an effort to be crowned in Reims but failed to take the city after a five-week siege. In Chartes he lost over 1,000 troops in a freak hailstorm. Jean's son Charles negotiated the Treaty of Brétigny in 1360, by which Jean was ransomed for 3 million crowns, and his son Louis was held hostage in Calais until the ransom was paid; Edward gained more territory in Gascogne but renounced his dormant claims to Normandie, Touraine, Anjou, and Maine, as well as his claim to the French throne. When Louis escaped in 1362, Jean voluntarily returned to captivity in England, where he died in 1364, followed by Charles V, who created Europe's first standing army since the Roman Empire. In 1369, on the pretext that Edward III had failed to observe the terms of the treaty, Charles declared war once again. For the first time since the war began, the French navy was able to attack the English coast.

  3. By the time Edward died in 1377, Charles had recovered most of his lost lands, but he died three years later, followed by Charles VI. Edward was followed by the Black Prince's 10-year-old son Richard II. The series of councils that ruled in Richard's behalf had to quell a peasants' revolt, caused in part by the heavy taxes needed to wage the war, and fight a war against Scotland. In 1388 Richard attempted to resume the French war but, realizing he lacked sufficient funds, signed a new truce in 1389. Eventually, in 1399, he was deposed by his cousin, who took the crown as Henry IV; Richard probably starved to death in captivity in 1400. The regime change led to a new Scottish war; a dispute over the division of the spoils then led to a serious revolt in northern England; and Owain Glyndŵr led the largest Welsh rebellion since 1283. In the meantime, Charles VI was becoming increasingly insane, believing he was made of glass, and two factions struggled for power: his brother Louis d'Orléans, who may have been the lover of Charles' wife the regent Isabeau (and perhaps the father of her son the future Charles VII) and their cousin Jean de Bougogne. Jean had Louis assassinated by 15 masked men in 1407, unleashing a civil war that lasted three decades.

  4. The Orléans faction was led by Louis' young son Charles and his father-in-law Bernard d'Armagnac, who recognized English rule over Poitou, Angoulême and Périgord in order to prevent an Anglo-Burgundian alliance. Henry IV died in 1413 and was followed by Henry V, who soon allied himself with the Burgundians and renewed his territorial demands, while also demanding that Charles' youngest daughter Catherine marry him. In 1415 he invaded France, took Harfleur after a long siege, and decimated the French army at Agincourt, largely composed of Armagnac forces. Then he took Caen in 1417 and Rouen in 1419, restoring Normandie to English rule for the first time in two centuries. In 1420 the Treaty of Troyes between Jean and Henry arranged for Henry to marry Catherine, proclaimed him to be the "regent and heir of France" until the death of king Charles, declared the dauphin Charles to be illegitimate, and established Henry's line as the heirs to the throne. In 1421 he assaulted Meaux, a loyalist stronghold, and took it in 1422 after a seven-month siege. But he died of dysentery at Vincennes in 1422; his nine-month-old son Henry VI inherited the thrones of England and France, with Henry's brother duke John of Bedford as the regent in France. Charles VI died two months later.

  5. In 1424 Bedford defeated the dauphin's Franco-Scottish forces at Verneuil, virtually destroying the French army and eliminating the Scots as a significant military force for the rest of the war. In 1418 the Burgundians seized Paris and instigated a mob to murder Bernard and 2,500 other Armagnacs. The dauphin concluded a peace treaty with Jean in 1419, to forestall Burgundian recognition of Henry, but Jean was assassinated in Montereau-Fault-Yonne under Charles' guarantee of protection. The new duc de Bourgogne, Philippe the Good, blamed Charles for his father's murder and allied with the English. The Anglo-Burgundian armies then conquered much of France, with the English in control of Paris and Rouen and the Burgundians in Reims, the traditional French coronation site since 816. After a brief fallout over Hainaut in 1425-26, the English and Burgundians renewed their alliance and resumed their offensive in 1427, especially against the Orléanais region southwest of Paris. Strategically, it controlled the Loire river into the french heartland but also separated the English area of operations in the west and the Burgundian area in the east. In late 1427 Étienne de Vignolles ("La Hire") and Jean d'Orléans, count of Dunois ("the Bastard of Orléans"), achieved a rare victory when they forced the siege of Montargis to be lifted, emboldening sporadic uprisings in the English-occupied region of Maine and threatening recent English gains. So in 1428 the English besieged Orléans, the last of the northern cities to support Charles; its duc was one of the few combatants from Agincourt who remained a prisoner of the English 14 years after the battle, and his half brother Jean d'Orléans acted in his behalf.

  6. For generations, prophecies had promised that France would be saved by a virgin from the "borders of Lorraine" who would work miracles, and "that France will be lost by a woman [in this case Isabeau] and shall thereafter be restored by a virgin." Around 1425 Jehanne Darc (known as Jeanne d'Arc or Joan of Arc since the mid-19th century), an illiterate 13-year-old peasant from Domrémy in the duchy of Bar in norheastern France, began having visions. The Archangel Michael, the leader of God's army against the powers of Hell, the angel of death and final opportunity for redemption, and the guardian of the Catholic church; and two of the chief Holy Helpers who gained widespread popularity as healers at the time of the Black Death, St. Margaret the Virgin (the patron saint of pregnancy, who refused to renounce her Christian faith when the Roman governor Olybrius of Antioch demanded she do so in order to marry him and as a result was tortured -- in one instance she was swallowed by Satan in the form of a dragon, but escaped when her crucifix irritated the dragon's innards -- before she was executed in 304) and St. Catherine of Alexandria (another virgin, the patroness of young maidens and female students, who, as the daughter of the Egyptian governor Constus, was martyred at 18 in the early 4th century after rebuking emperor Maxentius for his cruelty; after besting in argument 50 pagan philosophers, many of whom she converted, she was scourged and imprisoned, but she continued to convert another 200, including Maxentius' wife, to whom Catherine presented a crown given to her by an angel, who were all executed as Christians; when the emperor proposed to her at last, she said she was married to Jesus, so he ordered her to be killed on a spiked breaking wheel, which broke at her touch; she was subsequently beheaded, and angels took her to Mr. Sinai; at the moment of her death she asked Jesus to answer the prayers of those who remembered her martyrdom) all instructed her to support Charles VII's coronation and recover France from English domination, even though her village was in the heart of Burgundian controlled territory and had been pillaged and burned in her youth.

  7. When she was 16 she went to Vaucouleurs and petitioned the garrison commander, Robert de Baudricourt, for an armed escort to Charles' court at Chinon. After he sarcastically rejected her, she returned and gained support from two of his soldiers, Jean de Metz and Bertrand de Poulengy, who interceded with him to meet with her again; she predicted a victory at Rouvray near Orléans, convincing Baudricourt to accede to her request. Disguised as a soldier, she journeyed through Burgundian territory to Chinon. Despite the advice of the royal counselor Jacques Gélu that Charles risked making himself "ridiculous in the sight of foreign nations" if he changed his "policy because of conversation with a girl, a peasant ... so susceptible to illusions," she managed to impress the dauphin during a private conference and he gave her permission to accompany a relief expedition to Orléans and provided her with armor. But first he had her subjected to a theological examination at Poitiers, which cleared her of heresy and vouched for her virtue. She arrived at Orléans on 29 April 1429 and managed to attend most war councils and battles despite Jean d'Orléans' hostility. Though the military leaders believed she was divinely inspired and accepted her advice, she went into battle unarmed, believing her banner was 40 times more effective than any weapon, and did not personally command any troops. Before her arrival the city's defenders had only attempted one offensive assault, which had failed, but on 4 May the Armagnacs captured the outlying bastille de Saint-Loup, and on 5 May they took the abandoned Saint-Jean-le-Blanc fortress. They then took an English fortress built around Les Augustins monastery. On 7 May they attacked the main English stronghold, "les Tourelles." Jehanne was wounded by an arrow between the neck and shoulder but returned to the fray to encourage a final, successful, assault that took the fortress. The English withdrew the next day.

  8. Jehanne then persuaded Charles to let her accompany duc Jean d' Alençon's army to recapture nearby bridges as a prelude to advance on Reims, which was deep within enemy territory, rather than liberating Paris or marching on Normandie. At Jargeau she warned Alençon that a cannon was about to fire at him, and she was hit by a stone while she was near the base of the town's wall. The army took Jargeau on 12 June, Meung-sur-Loire on 15 June, and Beaugency on 17 June. The English army (whom Jehanne called "Les goddams" due to the frequent expletives she heard them utter) withdrew from the Loire valley and headed north on 18 June. Jehanne urged the Armagnacs to pursue, and southwest of Patay the French decimated their foes. The French left Gien on 29 June on the march toward Reims and accepted the conditional surrender of Auxerre on 3 July. Other towns in the area returned to French allegiance without resistance, although Troyes held out for four days. The army entered Reims on 16 July 1429, and Charles was crowed there the next day. Jehanne and Alençon urged a prompt march on Paris, but Charles negotiated a truce with Philippe the Good instead' the Burgundians used it as a stalling tactic to reinforce the defense of Paris. Meanwhile, the French accepted more peaceful surrenders from towns near Paris. On 15 August Bedford fought the French to a stand-off at Montépilloy, but the French attacked Paris on 8 September, where Jehanne was wounded in the leg by a crossbow bolt. The following day Charles ordered the army to withdraw. In October, Jehanne was with the army that took Saint-Pierre-le-Moûtier, but in November and December the French were repulsed from La-Charité-sur-Loire. In March, during a truce, Jehanne challenged the English to leave France and fight the heretical Hussites in Bohemia instead.

  9. In May she went to Compiègne to defend the city against an Anglo-Burgundian siege, but was ambushed and captured when the French withdrew from their attack on the Burgundian camp at Margny north of the city; she stayed with the rear guard but was pulled from her horse by a Burgundian archer. Imprisoned at Beaurevoir Castle, she made several escape attempts, on one occasion jumping into soft earth from a 70-foot (21 m) tower. She was then moved to Arras. Bishop Pierre Cauchon of Beauvais negotiated with her captor, Jean de Luxembourg, to transfer her to English custody in exchange for 10,000 livres tournois. The English took her to their headquarters at Rouen. In the winter of 1430–1431, in March and in May 1431 Armagnac rescue attempts failed. On 9 January, Cauchon presided over a clerical trial overseen by Bedford, who financed the proceedings. Under ecclesiastical law, Cauchon lacked jurisdiction over the case, and the notary Nicolas Bailly, who was commissioned to collect testimony against Jehanne, could find no adverse evidence, a requirement for initiating a trial. She was also denied the right to a legal adviser or to appeal to the pope or the Council of Basel. Instead of being confined in an ecclesiastical prison under the supervision of nuns, she was kept in a secular prison guarded by English soldiers. To deter rape, she wore military garb in prison because it gave her the ability to fasten her hosen, boots, and tunic together into one piece; but this was used as evidence of "cross dressing" and thus a relapse into heresy, a change that was a capital crime only if it were a repeat offense. Portions of the trial transcript were altered in her disfavor. The 12 articles of accusation which summarized the court's findings contradicted the already doctored court record. Though she was illiterate, she "signed" an abjuration document, which was a different one than the official record. Inquisitors who objected to the illegalities were threatened with execution unless they cooperated. In an effort to trap her by her own testimony, she was asked if she knew she was in God's grace; if he answered no she would have confessed her guilt, if she answered yes she would have been charged with heresy since the church held that no one but God could be certain. Jehanne sidestepped the trap by answering, "If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me." Nonetheless, she was condemned and sentenced to die. She was burned at the stake on 30 May 1431; "les goddams" raked back the coals to expose her charred body so to one could claim she had escaped alive and then burned the body two more times to reduce it to ashes and prevent any collection of relics, then cast her remains into the Seine river.

  10. Henry VI was crowned king of France at Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris on 16 December 1431, his 10th birthday, and the war continued another 22 years. Bedford wanted to defend Normandie, and the duke of Gloucester wanted only to defend Calais, but cardinal Beaufort was inclined to make peace. The long truces that marked the war gave Charles time to centralize this government and reorganize his army. The duke of Beaufort mediated negotiations at the congress of Arras in the summer of 1435, but the English made unrealistic demands. A few days after the congress ended, Philippe the Good deserted to Charles VII, and signed the Treaty of Arras that returned Paris to the king of France, though he was personally exempted from rendering homage to Charles VII (due to his complicity in the murder of Philippe's father). Philippe also secured the release of duc Charles d'Orleans, ending the feud with the Armagnacs. Bedford died a few days later. By 1449, the French had retaken Rouen, and in 1450 at Formigny they defeated an English army attempting to relieve Caen. After Normandie, Charles marched on Gascogne, the last English province, and took Bordeaux, its capital, in 1451. John Talbot retook the city in 1452, but he was defeated and slain at Castillon the next year. This was the last major battle of the war, but no peace treaty was signed for another two decades. Counting on English support, in 1474, Charles the Bold, the last duc de Bourgogne, nearly re-ignited the war by revolting against Louis XI, who bribed Edward IV to remain neutral with a large cash sum and an annual pension in exchange for the English renunciation of the French throne via the 1475 Treaty of Picquigny in 1475 (although the English continued to claim it until 1803). Charles was killed at Nancy in 1477, and Louis took Artois, Flandres, Picardie, and Bourgogne from his daughter Marie.


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